A Library Primer (1899)/Chapter XVI

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A Library Primer by John Cotton Dana
Chapter XVI, Buying books

A good book for a library, speaking of the book as to its wearing qualities and as to the comfort of its users, is printed on paper which is thin and pliable, but tough and opaque. Its type is not necessarily large, but is clear-cut and uniform, and set forth with ink that is black, not muddy. It is well bound, the book opening easily at any point. The threads in the back are strong and generously put in. The strings or tapes onto which it is sewn are stout, and are laced into the inside edges of the covers, or are strong enough to admit of a secure fastening with paste and paper. In ordering books of which several editions are on the market, specify the edition you wish. When you have found a good edition of a popular author like Scott or Dickens, make a note of it on the shelf-list.

In giving your orders, always try your local dealer first. If he cannot give you good terms, or, as is very likely to be the case, has not the information or the facilities which enable him to serve you well, submit a copy of the list to several large book dealers, choosing those nearest your town, and ask for their discounts. It is economical, generally, to purchase all your books through one dealer, thus saving letter writing, misunderstandings, freight, express, and general discomfort.

Keep a record of all books ordered. The best form of record is on slips, using a separate slip for each book. These order slips should have on them the author's surname, brief title, number of volumes, abbreviated note of place, publisher, year, publisher's price if known, name of dealer of whom ordered, date when ordered, and if its purchase has been requested by anyone that person's name and address.

For transmitting the order to the book dealer, a list on sheets should be made from the order slips, arranged either by publishers or alphabetically by authors. This list may be written on one side of the paper only, with copying ink, and a letter-press copy taken; or, make a carbon copy of the sheet sent to the dealer. The carbon copy has the advantage of being easier to handle and better to write on. The books as received should be checked by this copy, or by the order cards. The cards for books received should be put by themselves, alphabetically, and kept until the books they represent have been cataloged and the cards for them have been properly entered in the card catalog. You thus will have lists 1) of books ordered and not received; 2) of books received and not cataloged; 3) of books cataloged. If few books are bought this work is unnecessary.

A Library Primer illustration Simple order form.jpg
Simple form of order slip on plain paper. (Reduced; actual size, 7½ x 12½ cm.)


Books will often be ordered at the request of interested persons. In such cases the name and address of the person asking for the book should be entered on the bottom of the order slip for that book. When the book comes, and has been made ready for use, send a note to this person, notifying him of the fact of its arrival.

A Library Primer illustration Completed order form.jpg
Order slip. (Reduced; actual size, 7½ x 12½ cm.)

Do not be tempted by a large discount to give orders to irresponsible persons. A library should secure from 25 to 35 per cent discount. Do not buy ordinary subscription books or books on the installment plan. Do not anticipate revenues, and do not spend all your money at once; if you do you will miss many a bargain, and have to go without books that are needed more than those you have bought. Buy good but not expensive editions. Do not spend on a single costly work, of interest to few and seldom used by that few, a sum that would buy 20 or perhaps 100 volumes that would be in constant and profitable use by many. Buy no book unless by personal acquaintance, or upon competent and trustworthy testimony, it is worth adding to your library. Do not feel that you must buy complete sets of an author, or all of any "series"; all the works of very few authors are worth having. Do not buy cheap editions of fiction; the paper, presswork, and binding is poor, and is simply a waste of money. The best is none too good in buying fiction, for it wears out fast, and has to be rebound, and then replaced. Do not buy a lot of second-hand fiction to put into the hands of the people. You cannot expect them to keep their books clean if you start them out with dirty pages, soiled plates, and a general hand-me-down air.

Books for young people must be interesting. No amount of excellence in other directions will compensate for dull books.

Do not trust too much to the second-hand dealer. Avoid subscription books. Do not buy of a book peddler; in nine cases out of ten you can find better and cheaper books at the stores. A well selected and judiciously purchased library, with such works of reference as are needed, will cost, on an average, $1.25 a volume.

The following notes were prepared by a bookseller of experience, and should be carefully considered before beginning to buy books:

Any bookseller worthy your patronage will be able to assist you by pointing out the most desirable edition for general library use.

There is every reason for placing your orders with your local dealer so long as he can care for them intelligently. A large discount should not be the sole factor in deciding where to buy, but keep in mind this, a conscientious bookseller can save you money by carefully watching your interests in the very many details that pertain to bookbuying. Having decided on your bookseller agent, place all your orders with him. It will save you time, which is equivalent to money. Keep an exact duplicate copy of every order you place, and for this purpose a manifold book is preferable. In writing your orders never write on both sides of a sheet; arrange your items alphabetically by author, and make all your entries as complete and full as possible. This is particularly important in the case of books in the field of science, history, and biography. The more clear and definite your orders are made out, the more promptly and completely can your bookseller supply them.

An ideal bookseller, qualified to act as your agent, is one who has familiarized himself with the various editions of books, and will always make selections with greater stress on quality than quantity; who will not send you the second edition of a scientific work when a third is out; who will avoid sending you expensive publications (even though you may have ordered them) until he is satisfied that you want them; who will exert himself to get desirable books that may be out of print or issued by an out-of-the-way publisher; who will always be prepared to advise you as to the latest work on any particular subject, as well as the best work.

These points are of greater importance to the live librarian than is the percentage of discount. Say nothing about per cents; to do so is misleading and unsatisfactory always. No one understands you.

It is safe to estimate that your purchases of fiction and juvenile literature will average inside of $1 per volume.

A general list, including reference books, of say 4000v., would average about $1.25 per volume, or $5000.

Make your purchases with the needs of your community clearly in mind, securing such books as will be constantly in use, and thereby get returns for your expenditure. The expensive publications and books that are called for only at rare intervals should be left to libraries with very large incomes, and to those making special collections.

Where possible to do so avoid buying large bills of books at long intervals. It is better to spend an income of $600 per year in monthly installments of $50, than it is to buy twice a year $300 lots.

The frequent purchase will bring you the new and talked of books while they are fresh in the minds of people, and there is greater economy of time in cataloging and shelving them.

Second-hand books are rarely cheap at any price.

Have confidence in your agent, for your interests are always his.